Want to learn how to play guitar like blues innovator Freddie King? Check out this Freddie King Player Study, which will teach you his signature style, including his unique picking style and lead playing.
Freddie King was born in Gilmer, Texas in 1934. He first picked up a guitar at the age of six, and his mother and uncle both taught him how to play. In 1949, King’s family moved to Chicago, where he stuck into nightclubs to take in blues performances by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Wolf began mentoring the 16-year-old King after hearing him sit in with a band.
Over the next couple of years, King worked in a steel mill by day and played blues by night. He formed his first band, the Every Hour Blues Boys, and worked as a sideman for several Chicago blues contemporaries. In 1956, he put out his first record as a band leader under El-Bee Records.He was rejected from Chess Records – the premier blues label which was at the time home to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf – they thought King’s singing style was too similar to B.B. King’s.
Freddie King got his big break in 1960 when King Records opened a Chicago office, and upon learning that Chess Records had turned him down, they quickly signed him. King’s first recording session with King Records resulted in his version of “Hide Away”, which became a signature song for King. “Hide Away” hit number 29 on the Pop Charts, which hadn’t happened for a blues instrumental before. He turned out a series of other blues instrumentals which also became standards – including “San-Ho-Zay,” “The Stumble,” and “I’m Tore Down”.
King was an inspiration to blues and rock guitarists throughout the 1960s, especially Eric Clapton, who added “Hide Away” to his showcase in 1965. Clapton would eventually perform alongside King and produced on King’s record “Burglar”. Following that release, King toured America, Europe, and Australia. In 1975, he released his second RSO album, Larger Than Life.
Sadly, King died in 1976 of stomach ulcers and pancreatitis at only 42 years old, often attributed to his brutal touring schedule.
Both Texas and Chicago blues styles are reflected in King’s virtuosic playing style – from Texas, the open string style, and from Chicago, the bellowing tones he used. He incorporated both thumb and fingerpicking in his style. A singer who often recorded instrumental tracks, King’s playing often included vocal nuances, as if the guitar was doing the singing.
His attack style and explosive onstage presence – plus his 6’5” frame – earned King the nickname “Texas Cannonball”.
During his short but prolific career, King created many classic blues songs. He provided inspiration for generations of blues and rock guitarists, including Mick Taylor, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Lonnie Mack. He was one of the first blues artists to employ a racially integrated group onstage with him. King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.